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Accepted Paper:

What can anthropology offer to the study of 'a metaverse with Chinese characteristics'?  
Matthew Adams (Brunel University)

Paper short abstract:

The ‘legitimate operator’ in Chinese cyberspace is one nudged towards a coherent form centred on one’s legal identity. The opportunities for self-construal are thus continuous with one’s offline identity in ways they may not be elsewhere, and anthropology is uniquely positioned to study this.

Paper long abstract:

In many ways, Mainland China already has a metaverse. On the Chinese internet, the other side of the Great Firewall, a persistent identity unifies gaming and social media profiles, accounts at online retailers, one’s bank account, and citizenship. These are much less loosely bound together in the internet outside of China, and conscious efforts are now being made by companies like ‘Meta’ to create integrated, but competing, platforms to give structure to what may otherwise become a free-for-all. Major players in China, such as Tencent and Alibaba, already function along the Cartesian lines laid by the state and its systems, implicit as well as explicit, of social credit.

‘AI’ likewise exists in a different form on the Mainland. Consider the short-video and livestreaming platform Douyin and its sister app abroad, TikTok. Their suggestion algorithms are famously clever, quickly learning a user’s preferences and feeding tailored content. Outside China, these algorithms are unshackled, rapidly pushing users into niches and incentivising content with visceral appeal: eliciting strong emotions, or sensational, sexual, and otherwise lustful. Users and contributors are thus pushed towards extremes. Meanwhile in China there is the paradox of largely ‘human-controlled’ algorithms, where top-down policies carried out by legions of state employees, and indeed autonomous citizens, promote ‘#PositiveEnergy’, and so nudge the metaverse and the netizens created thereby towards socially cohesive, nominally socialist morals and behaviours.

This paper presents what anthropology brings to the study of the Chinese metaverse, and the lessons for one possible future of the internet globally.

Panel P33
What can anthropology offer to the study of 'a metaverse with Chinese characteristics'?
  Session 1 Tuesday 7 June, 2022, -